A lot of research is looking into what happens inside an Alzheimer’s brain to cause the destruction of neurons and blood vessels. Researchers have now isolated a possible reason and it has to do with the role of the brain’s own immune cells. Amyloid-beta destroys neurons and damages brain blood vessels with the help of highly reactive molecules, called free radicals, which are derived from oxygen. A study at Cornell University has found that a type of immune cell called Perivascular Macrophages (PVM) are key culprits for the production of these free radicals, which paralyze blood vessels and deprive the brain of essential oxygen and nutrients.
Normally, PVM remove waste products from around the blood vessels in the brain but, when beta amyloid binds to them, they start to produce the toxic molecules. Scientists found that, once they removed the PVM from mice with beta amyloid, their blood vessels began to work normally again. Genetic studies have suggested a link between the brain’s immune cells and the breakdown of neurons in Alzheimer’s but, until now, their precise role wasn’t clear. Researchers say the next step is to identify ways to block the binding of beta amyloid to PVM, which they believe could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.
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